26 years of diversity, progressive politics and flushing toilets

    Huntly Collins has spent nearly three decades on the same block in Mt. Airy.  She says it’s the neighborhood comaraderie and diversity that keep her there. 

    When work called me to Philadelphia from my hometown in Oregon, I rented an apartment in Olde City and then moved to Mt. Airy.

    Besides the trees, what drew me was the diversity and the progressive politics.

    I bought a row house in the 100 block of West Durham Street and considered it temporary until I could find something a little bigger and with enough privacy that I didn’t hear the toilet flushing in the house next door.

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    That was 26 years ago.

    Today, I’m hooked on my block, which offers the kind of community I haven’t found anywhere I’ve ever lived — from New England to the Pacific Northwest and points in between.

    Here on West Durham Street, I know most of my neighbors by first name.

    I can walk into the house next door unannounced and borrow an egg or a cup of milk.

    Fences used to separate the backyards on my side of the block. But a few years ago, we all got together and took them down so we could enjoy each others’ company.

    When our daughter was a toddler, I didn’t have to look far for a sitter. Anna, the Italian grandmother across the street, offered a special combination of tough love and homemade spaghetti sauce with tomatoes fresh from her garden.

    Down the block, a retired railroad worker and his wife became “Aunt Ruth” and “Uncle Eddie” to our daughter. Ruth told her Bible stories and made her kielbasa sandwiches, while Ed taught her to play checkers and let her turn on Cartoon Network, which we didn’t allow at home.

    Their passing several years ago was the first family loss my daughter experienced.

    During the Great Ice Storm of ’98, when the city was too stretched to clear our street, everyone on the block pitched in and chipped away at the ice with everything from shovels to axes to ice picks. Inch by hard-won inch, we got the street cleared.

    Today, I love that the Allen Lane train station, with its coffee shop, is just two blocks away, and that my gym and some of my favorite restaurants are two blocks in the other direction.

    But such amenities aren’t what’s really special about Mt. Airy. It’s the people and the caring we have for one another.

    As I approach my third decade on West Durham Street, I don’t even hear that flushing toilet anymore.


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